Hermes, Chanel, Missoni, Louis Vuitton. The number of recognizable designer clothes and accessories in Woody Allen's new film "Blue Jasmine" is astounding. And appropriate, considering the story is about a Ruth Madoff-type, fallen socialite named Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who struggles to reinvent herself after losing all her money.
Throughout the film, Jasmine breathlessly drops designer and brand names, decorating details and high-end addresses. The bags on the luggage carousel that belong to her are Louis Vuitton. Her husband collected vintage Bentleys. She isn't just from New York, she's from Park Avenue. It's as if by repeating a mantra of all the right things and right places she is reassuring herself that all is right with the world.
But as it turns out, she's so consumed by consuming that she doesn't even notice her high-roller investor husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is cheating on her. "Don't you have everything you want?" he asks, as if his philandering and shady business dealings shouldn't matter so long as her answer is "yes."
Even after the money is gone (along with the husband), Chanel "CCs," Louis Vuitton "LVs" and Hermes "H's" are still so much a part of Jasmine's identity that she can't let them go. She'd rather wear the same Chanel boucle cardigan every day than have to shed that part of herself. And when she meets an eligible bachelor with political ambitions, clearly what he's most interested in is that she looks the part.
Although there are funny moments in the film, it is really a tragedy, most of all because Jasmine has never taken the chance to get to know herself beyond what's on the surface. And certainly she's not alone. With our culture's obsession with striving for a luxury lifestyle and an endless number of TV shows, blogs and magazines telling us how to do it, are we missing something greater about life?
That seems to be the message of "Blue Jasmine." It's particularly interesting to look at this cautionary tale together with Sofia Coppola's film "The Bling Ring," which came out earlier this summer, portraying the real-life story of a ring of teenage thieves so obsessed with the lifestyles of their celebrity counterparts in Hollywood (the Paris Hiltons of the world) that they broke into their homes and availed themselves of all the blingy trappings, again with plenty of on-screen name-checking of Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Most people know you can't buy (or steal) happiness. Even so, many of us will keep trying.
[*UPDATED Aug. 2 at 5:39 p.m.: A earlier version of the photo caption with this post stated that Sonia Grande is the costume designer for "Blue Jasmine." The film's costume designer is Suzy Benzinger.]